Excerpt from research findings reported by Jeremy Deaton on Nexus Media, showing that greater awareness after disasters or catastrophes doesn’t last long. Rather, people trust others they know — it’s up to each of us to talk about our values and climate change, in our networks of acquaintances and relations, organize them, and get the systems over which we have some control changed! Those include our local energy systems!
Our friend Nathan Schneider also describes what we’re doing and where it comes from, when we conclude that things have to get worse before they’ll get better…
What actually changes public opinion about climate change?
Carmichael and his collaborator, Robert Bruelle, a sociologist at Drexel University, attempted to answer this question definitively. They published their findings in the journal Environmental Politics. Here are the three big takeaways:
- People can only fret about so many things at once. Americans worry less about climate change when the economy is in the tank. As Gallup also suggested, a stronger economy has played a role in growing concern about climate change.
- When newsmakers talk about climate change, the press covers it. Greater coverage translates into greater concern. It’s essential that journalists — weather forecasters in particular —continuously report on the carbon crisis.
- Political mobilization by advocacy groups is “critical” to shaping public opinion.
“Don’t wait around for a massive storm,” said Carmichael. He said advocates should focus on politics instead. “The fossil fuel industry outspends the environmental movement by more than 10–1… Taking them on will be tough and costly.”
When the environmental movement flexes its muscle, it can move public opinion. Through a sustained campaign that began in 2012, groups turned the public against the Keystone XL pipeline. The effect was far more pronounced among Democrats than Republicans, but environmentalists managed to win over members of both parties and helped persuade President Obama to block the project.
This is where advocates should focus their attention: on well-defined battles where it is possible to shift public opinion. Environmentalists can’t assume Americans will come around as the mercury rises. They have to speak to the public and pressure politicians, just as fossil fuel interests have done for decades.
“The conservative denial machine is doing laps around climate change advocacy organizations,” said Carmichael. “Success will likely require taking a few cues from their playbook.”